By Matt Jenkins
---- — BEVERLY — No matter how well the St. John’s Prep basketball team shot the ball in the first half or how good it felt to push the lead to nine points late in the third quarter, coach John Dullea knew it wouldn’t matter in the end.
When St. John’s Prep and Central Catholic meet on the basketball court, it always seems to come down to the wire.
The two teams added more intensity to their recent postseason rivalry last night at Beverly’s Henry Cabot Lodge Fieldhouse as Central came back to win 81-74 in overtime.
“As always you can pretty much take the first 31/2 quarters and throw them out the window,” Dullea said. “It’s always going to come down to the last four minutes of the game. They made plays and we didn’t. They executed and got stops when they needed and we didn’t help ourselves on the boards. We didn’t make the plays at the end.”
Central Catholic moves on to play Andover in the Division 1 North final Saturday at Lowell’s Tsongas Center. St. John’s finished its season at 17-5.
The Eagles went up by nine points when Spencer Danforth finished a fastbreak with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.
Central (20-5) answered with a 9-0 to tie it with 5:07 to go.
“We just stuck around and kept saying, make one stop at a time and crawl back in it,” Central Catholic coach Ricky Nault said. “That’s what we did.”
The lead went back and forth in the final couple minutes of regulation and the Prep’s Mike Bisson made one free throw with 45 seconds left to eventually force overtime. Kareem Davis had a good look off the dribble just before time expired, but it didn’t fall.
The Prep led 71-69 in overtime after Ben Judson made two free throws and Max Burt finished a drive.
Aaron Hall converted a layup for Central to tie it, however, and A.J. Pettway hit an off-balance jumper in the lane to give the Raiders a 73-71 lead with 1:09 to go.
That’s when things came apart for the Prep. Judson, who was on fire for the entire first half and most of the second half, missed a contested jumper on the left baseline after an aggressive drive. Trailing the play as it went the other way, Judson was hit with a technical foul.
Tyler Nelson made both free throws for Central, which ended up with a four-point lead and the ball with only 44 seconds left.
“I’m not positive (what happened). I think he (the official) said Ben might have grazed him when he went by him. It was nothing he said. I wasn’t even looking at it; I was watching the ball,” Dullea said. “We haven’t had a technical foul all year and that was the worst time to get our first one.”
Central made 8 of 10 freebies down the stretch to close it out.
It was a tough end to Judson’s night, who was immense all game. He scored 18 points in the first half and finished with 30 for the game.
“He absolutely torched us,” Nault said about Judson.
Dullea could see Judson was feeling it early in the game.
“He came out strong, he came out firing and they made some adjustments to make it difficult for him in the second half,” Dullea said. “But he still played well. He carried us in the first half.”
Max Burt (16 points), Max Butterbrodt (12) and Davis (11) also hit double figures for St. John’s.
Nelson, Nick Cambio and Hall each had 19 points for Central, and Alex Santos chipped in 10.
“There’s not a lead that’s big enough (against Central),” Dullea said. “If you look at their season, every fourth quarter they make a run; that’s why they are who they are.”
Central Catholic 81, St. John’s Prep 74 (OT)
at Beverly High
Central Catholic: Pettway 2-0-4, Nelson 5-9-19, Buresh 2-0-6, Hall 9-1-19, Santos 5-0-10, Cambio 8-3-19, Sullivan 2-0-4. Totals 33-13-81.
St. John’s Prep: Judson 10-5-30, M. Burt 7-1-16, J. Burt 0-0-0, Bisson 1-1-3, Davis 4-2-11, Danforth 1-0-2, Butterbrodt 5-2-12, Lovett 0-0-0. Totals 28-11-74.
Halftime: SJP, 43-37.
3-pointers: CC, Buresh 2; SJP, Judson 5, M. Burt, Davis.
Records: CC, 20-5, SJP, 17-5